Star Trek Picard (PIC) Season 3 Guest Reviews
Stardate not given: A Borg group apparently disconnected to a relatively intact collective led by a Queen taking the form of assimilated human Agnes Jurati and the disconnected Beta Quadrant refugees led by Hugh, prior to his death, has secretly built a transwarp hub and established their unicomplex inside the atmosphere of Jupiter in the Sol system. Although the biological components of this Borg group have almost completely been exterminated through necrosis, presumably by as a result of the illegal biological weapon used against them by Admiral Kathryn Janeway from an alternate future timeline that ceased to exist, they have nevertheless been able to introduce two devastating secret protocols throughout the computer systems of Starfleet. The first system allows the Borg to take computer control of all updated ships in the fleet. The second has introduced Borg systems into Starfleet officers at the genetic level through subversion of transporter systems fleetwide. Fortunately for the Federation, both components of the assimilation system are much weaker than previous Borg technology, requiring directions from a beacon in the Borg's Jupiter-based unicomplex. To operate the new collective, all commands must be routed via the beacon through the newly assimilated human Jack Crusher. Additionally, the advanced state of the necrosis has left the unicomplex almost completely defenseless. Having successfully assimilated nearly all the combined ships of Starfleet, the Borg focus their attention on destroying the Earth. Meanwhile, Admiral Jean Luc Picard and a tiny crew piloting the decommissioned museum starship USS Enterprise (1701-D) successfully locate Jack and disconnect him from the beacon, which is destroyed along with the unicomplex, reversing the assimilation, and freeing the fleet. For its supporting role in the battle, the USS Titan is rechristened as the USS Enterprise (1701-G).
I have barely been able to bring myself to watch this episode. Although I have been a lifelong Star Trek fan (having been exposed to TAS as a child in the 1970s and growing up with TOS in syndication), Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) became and has remained my favorite part of the franchise, in no small part due to my love of the lead character, Jean Luc Picard. The potential to revisit this character in a new series was limitless. But in the end, after three failed seasons, that potential was utterly squandered. In the end, the series was not interested in exploring any new ideas or saying anything worth saying.
As with Star Trek: Discovery (DIS), the creators of Star Trek: Picard (PIC) did not understand the difference between serial and episodic television. In successful episodic series, you introduce a bunch of characters, hopefully with interesting backgrounds, and then, over the course of many episodes that consist of self-contained stories, the back stories of the characters are revealed and their relationships with one another are developed. For an episodic series to be successful, you do not need to know ahead of time how the series will end because each episode is a satisfying narrative.
For a successful serial series, like Russian Doll (season 1) or the Watchmen (2019 miniseries) or Heroes (season 1), you have to know where you are going ahead of time. By the time we had gotten mid-way through the first season of DIS, it became clear that the creators and writers had no idea where the serial was going. This led to a complete narrative failure. Unfortunately, the creators of PIC did not learn from this catastrophic mistake. Once again, it became increasingly clear by the middle of season 1 when Agnes Jurati murders Bruce Maddox without any consequences, that the writers had no idea where they were going. The conclusion that they set out without any idea where they were going was born out in the preposterous 2-part season 1 finale, PIC: "Et in Arcadia Ego."
The narrative failures of DIS and PIC have led many fans to conclude that the Star Trek franchise does not lend itself to serial storytelling, that Star Trek is naturally episodic. (And this thinking has apparently led to the creation of the episodic series, Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, both of which are vast improvements on Discovery and Picard.) But the successful Dominion War narrative arc in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) already showed the potent for serial storytelling in Star Trek decades ago, and the first season of Star Trek: Prodigy (PRO) was an unexpectedly successful serial. In other words, it is very possible to create a successful Star Trek serial if you remember the key rule of figuring out where you are going before you get there --- something the writers of PRO clearly understand.
The second rule of serial storytelling is that plot developments can have consequences: characters can die, and the major political status quo of the galaxy can be upended. But in PIC, it seems, only unimportant characters can die for real. Picard dies, but his soul is effectively transferred into an android body that has the same physical and temporal limitations of his old body. No narrative potential of this massive transformation was ever explored. Likewise, Data has died and been reborn so many times that his deaths and rebirths no longer come with any feeling for me. We are in an era where Star Wars: The Mandalorian is able to re-introduce Luke Skywalker looking just as he looked in Return of the Jedi. How much more poignant would it have been to have Data or a Soong-type android in PIC who looked exactly like Data from TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint"? A truly immortal Data could have really allowed Picard and the other cast members to feel their mortality (as occurred in TNG: "All Good Things"). Unfortunately, the only characters that really die in the pseudo-serial of PIC are minor characters like Icheb and Hugh, who are killed in throwaway scenes.
Likewise major shifts in galactic politics in PIC do not have any consequences as the status quo is continually reset. At the beginning of season 1, the Romulan Empire was effectively destroyed and the Romulans are mostly living as impoverished refugees, and yet by the end of the season the Romulans are able to field the largest armada of new, identical ships, that we have ever seen in Star Trek. (Fortunately or unfortunately the Federation has a similarly unprecedented fleet of new, identical ships.) In season 1, the Borg collective is largely destroyed, and individuals are going through the slow, painful process of de-assimilation. But in season 2, the collective is again fielding fleets that could potentially destroy the Federation, but do not due to a time travel intervention that leaves Agnes Jurati as the Borg Queen. All of this is apparently forgotten in season 3, where the old Borg Queen is back and the collective is once again suffering as a consequence of the events in VOY: "Endgame."
Unfortunately, the catastrophic narrative failure of PIC's first season had two additional negative side-effects. In the first place, PIC had actually created potentially interesting characters, including Laris, Raffi Musiker, Dahj Asha, Chris Rios, Agnes Jurati, and Elnor. But over the course of the series, these were all essentially discarded (with the lone exception of Raffi). For example, I felt Elnor had a lot of interesting potential when he was introduced in PIC: "Absolute Candor"), but nothing ever came of his character. He was abruptly killed to sit out the bulk of season 2 and then, although brought back to life, was shipped off never to be heard from in season 3. Similarly, Rios inexplicably decides to remain trapped in the past at the end of season 2. These changes were clearly made in the name of fan-service. As the series tanked, the original concept of PIC was discarded until season 3 evolved into a full-on TNG reunion. I love all of the characters from TNG, I love the Enterprise-D, and I love Seven of Nine from VOY. But I do not care about anything that happened in this episode, anymore than I care about anything that happened in Star Trek: Nemesis, among the worst feature films in the franchise's history, which PIC season 3 largely retreads.
Perhaps the only thing from this episode that I do care a little about is the fact that the grotesque, kit-bash USS Titan-A, the worst designed hero ship in the history of the franchise, is rechristened as the Enterprise-G, further denigrating the already problematic lineage of the Federation flagship.
Rating: 2 (John Hamer)